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Published Sunday, September 12, 1999

Huskers whip up on Bears

Last modified at 10:36 a.m. on Monday, September 13, 1999

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photo: HuskersHQ
Independent/Barrett Stinson
Husker quarterback Bobby Newcombe dives into the end zone for the first score against California late in the first quarter, as California┬╣s Jeremiah Parker makes the tackle.
By Dale Miller
The Independent

LINCOLN -- Pregame fireworks capped off the Memorial Stadium Improvement Project dedication prior to Saturday's Nebraska-California game.

But it wasn't until the second quarter that the No. 5 Huskers produced some fireworks on the field.

Three second-quarter scores by Eric Crouch -- one rushing, one passing and one receiving -- gave the Huskers a 28-0 halftime lead en route to a 45-0 win.

The score for the first game in the newly-renovated Memorial Stadium was familiar to the record crowd of 77,617, but the way the Huskers won wasn't.

Nebraska (2-0) still lit up the scoreboard despite gaining only 114 yards rushing.

NU coach Frank Solich said the Bears' defense was the main reason the Nebraska ground attack never quite got on track.

"Cal was the third-best team in the Pac-10 in terms of their defense last year," he said. "They returned everybody this year. I've been saying all along that I think they're an excellent defensive football team.

"If you find ways to put points on the board, that's what it's all about. Their style of defense can make you look bad, and it can get you for some lost yardage. But it is susceptible to big plays, which we made today."

Both teams started out slowly. A personal foul on the opening kickoff let Cal start at its 35-yard line, but six plays later the Bears were forced to punt after Ralph Brown broke up Samuel Clemons' third down pass.

The Huskers went three-and-out on their first possession, but a 57-yard punt by Dan Hadenfeldt and an illegal block on the return backed the Bears up to their own 31.

Cal (1-1) put together its only real drive of the game. A pass interference call moved the Bears up to the 45-yard line before Clemons completed a pass to Michael Ainsworth to advance California across midfield to the Husker 43.

Clemons and Ainsworth connected on 16- and 10-yard passes to move Cal to the NU 14, but a holding call and a sack by Jeremy Slechta gave the Bears a fourth-and-13 at the 17-yard-line.

The Huskers got their first break to preserve a shutout when Ignacio Brache's 35-yard field goal attempt bounced off the left upright.

"I think we had a good momentum," Brache said. "If I go out there and make my three points, the offense would be excited that we had points on the board. But after I missed, I felt the momentum go down a little."

The teams traded punts, including a booming 73 yarder by Hadenfeldt before the Huskers found their way to the endzone.

After a DeJuan Grace 12-yard punt return gave the Huskers possession at their own 49-yard line, Bobby Newcombe scrambled for a 22-yard gain. A late hit penalty against Cal on the play moved the ball to the Bear 20.

Two plays later, Newcombe kept the ball on an option to the right side for a 12-yard touchdown with 28 seconds left in the first quarter to give NU a 7-0 lead. NU led despite being outgained by Cal in total yardage 73-23 in the opening stanza.

The Blackshirts forced Cal to go three-and-out to open the second quarter when Crouch began finding his way to the end zone on a regular basis.

The Cornhuskers opened the quarter with a nine-play, 80-yard drive. On third-and-five on the Nebraska 43, Tracey Wistrom caught a 32-yard pass from Crouch.

A pass interference call on Crouch's pass to Wistrom in the end zone moved the Huskers to the 2-yard line, and two rushes later Crouch went up the middle and scored on a second effort to give Nebraska a 14-0 lead with 8:44 remaining in the first half.

Nebraska didn't take long to score its final two scores of the first half.

After taking over on their own 27, the Huskers scored on the second play of the drive when Crouch found Wistrom all alone down the middle of the field for a 70-yard touchdown with 2:36 remaining. Wistrom was able to angle his way into the end zone to avoid being caught from behind.

Solich said the Huskers took advantage of the aggressive Bear defense on that play.

"They were supporting (against the run) by moving the safeties up," he said. "We were releasing the tight end on the safeties on the option game, and this play was identical to that. The safeties charged hard and bypassed (Wistrom)."

Wistrom, who had two receptions for 102 yards, said: "I was surprised to be that wide open. I was fortunate it wasn't an 80-yard run or I might not have made it. I saw the safety coming, so I tried to take a good angle to get into the end zone."

Nebraska's defense again held the Bears to three plays, and it took the NU offense only one to return to the endzone.

With Newcombe at quarterback, Crouch came into the game at wide receiver. After going into motion, he cut back into the middle. After catching Newcombe's pass, Crouch streaked down the middle of the field for a 60-yard score, giving the Huskers a 28-0 lead with 53 seconds left in the first half.

"Bobby threw a really nice pass, and Eric caught it on the run," Solich said. "He of course has excellent speed, so the ball was in the kind of guy's hands that you want it in on a play like that."

That touchdown made Crouch the first Husker to score a rushing, receiving and passing touchdown in the same game since Johnny Rodgers accomplished it against Notre Dame in 1973. Crouch finished the game 2-for-2 for 102 yards passing, 21 yards rushing on nine carries with two touchdowns, and one reception for 60 yards and a touchdown.

California got another scoring opportunity to open the second half. Newcombe fumbled while being sacked by Jerry DeLoach, and J.J. Jiminez recovered at the Nebraska 20-yard line.

But on third down, Eric Johnson sacked Clemons, and for the second time Brache's field goal attempt bounced off the left upright.

The teams traded three-and-outs, but Brian Shaw blocked Cal's punt and recovered the ball at the California 13-yard line.

Crouch's pitch on third down was off its mark, but DeAngelo Evans recovered the fumble, and Josh Brown hit a 37-yard field goal with 3:55 remaining in the third quarter to extend the lead to 31-0.

The Nebraska defense came up big on the next possession. Ralph Brown intercepted Kyle Boller's pass at the Bear 39 and returned it 35 yards.

Crouch went over the right tackle to score on the next play to give NU a 38-0 lead with 2:54 left in the quarter.

Shaw recovered a fumble by Ainsworth at midfield to kill Cal's next possession, and again the offense took advantage.

Newcombe, who was 3-for-7 for 85 yards, hooked up with Matt Davison on a 18-yard pass to move the ball to the 20-yard line.

On fourth-and-eight, Dan Alexander was stopped a yard short, but a face mask penalty moved the ball to the 5-yard line and kept the drive alive.

On the next play, Alexander rumbled up the middle into the end zone with 11:47 left in the game to cap off the game's scoring.

Winning by such a wide margin despite rushing for only 114 yards and gaining 301 total yards was surprising to the Huskers.

"If someone had told me that before the game, I would have said they were full of it," Newcombe said.

"We were trying to get the running game going and develop the play action pass. Although we weren't able to get Nebraska-type rushing yards, I think our offensive line did a good job of wearing them down early in the game."

Solich said he wasn't concerned by the rushing total.

"I look at the final score before I look at stats," he said. "If you look at it, we scored on some short fields, and we had some big plays. We did enough things on offense to make it work."

Dahrran Diedrick led NU on the ground with 29 yards on five carries. Alexander had 26 yards on six carries with a touchdown.

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